U.S. News

NY mayor: Any new bridge tolls must pay for upgrades

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday said he could support charging tolls on free East River bridge crossings if the cash was spent on improving mass transit combined with expense cuts.

But the mayor ruled out increasing how much money New York City gives the state agency that runs the subway, bus and commuter lines as well as major bridges and tunnels.

He also warned he might try to reduce city workers’ benefits or pensions if the economy worsens or other ways to close next year’s projected $1.3 billion shortfall cannot be found.

Bloomberg’s warning came a day after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said its deficit had jumped $300 million to $1.2 billion because its share of corporate and real estate tax revenues has fallen with the economic slide sparked by Wall Street’s financial crisis.

Motorists now pay $5 tolls on the MTA’s East River crossings, including the Triborough Bridge and two tunnels, the Brooklyn-Battery and Queens-Midtown.

A commission appointed by New York Gov. David Paterson might recommend having drivers paying the same toll on the city’s Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and 59th Street bridges, according to local newspapers.

The money would be funneled to the state mass transit agency, which by law must propose a new balanced budget, based on reasonable forecasts, by the end of this year.

Lee Sander, the agency’s executive director, on Monday warned that fare and toll hikes and cuts in service would be “draconian” unless the state or city or federal government boost their funding.

The Democratic governor said in September he opposed forcing interborough drivers to pay tolls on the city’s East River bridges. His commission issues its proposals on December 5, and Bloomberg, an independent, said the city will have to wait to see what the state is willing to do.

The state legislature has already spurned Bloomberg’s so-called congestion pricing plan, which would have discouraged motorists from driving into midtown Manhattan during weekday rush hours by charging $8 fees.

The mayor showed no inclination to revisit that deeply unpopular plan. “Having something they’re not willing to do -- I think we’ve been there and done that.”

Bloomberg, saying the state agency had no money for capital investment, added another way of raising funds to improve mass transit would have to be found.